Sonoluminescence: When Sound Creates Light


You probably don’t want to mess with the Mantis Shrimp. Its claws have inspired modern body armor and it strikes with 1500 newtons of force despite being quite tiny, what you would need to bench press around 150 kilograms. That strike is so powerful that it creates an unusual effect, one that physicists still haven’t quite figured out. When the claws snap, the motion creates small, hot bubbles that collapse to release a powerful shock wave, and even produce a small pulse of light. It’s called sonoluminescence. Researchers can create sonoluminescence in the lab to study how exactly the collapsing bubbles produce light and why they are so hot. Because these bubbles aren’t just a little warm – they are about as hot as the surface of the Sun. All it takes to produce sonoluminescence is sound with the right frequency moving through water. Sound waves are really just molecules that oscillate back and forth, creating areas of higher and lower pressure. When sound moves through water, the water can get pulled apart enough that the areas of low pressure create a small bubble of water vapor in a process called cavitation. Cavitation bubbles aren’t like the regular bubbles you’re used to. Regular bubbles are made by releasing gas under water, like when you exhale. Cavitation creates bubbles because the very low pressure essentially tears a gap in the water. Some molecules quickly evaporate into the bubble so it’s not a vacuum or anything, but these bubbles do have much lower air pressure than a regular bubble. So they collapse. The walls of the bubble push the inside smaller and smaller so the pressure begins to rapidly increase. There are a couple of ways that the bubbles collapsing could produce heat. One option is that as the pressure increases, so does the temperature, all the way up to several thousand degrees. But it’s also possible that it’s not just the increase in pressure. The gas inside the bubble might quickly turn back into liquid, which could also release a lot of heat. Either way, the collapse also helps explain why we see a flash of light. Though again, physicians have come up with a few different possible explanations for what’s happening. As the bubble gets hotter, different chemical reactions start taking place. Most of the molecules actually react with one another. These chemical reactions could be releasing a small burst of energy. For example, at high enough temperatures, water vapor dissociates. Meaning energy absorbed as the molecule is ripped apart into hydrogen and hydroxide. Then, when these parts recombine again, they release that energy. The light of sonoluminescence could be that released energy. Another possibility has to do with other substances inside the bubbles. If, say, argon is dissolved in the water (which it can be in seawater) then there might also be some argon inside the bubble. And the thing about argon is that it is very stable, it wouldn’t react at all. So as the bubble collapsed, everything would react except for argon. The argon would just get hotter and hotter and some of this thermal energy might turn into light. There is some evidence to back this idea up. When scientists tried making cavitation bubbles in water that had extra argon dissolved inside, the light became longer and brighter. Yet another option is that the bubble has enough energy to cause some of the electrons to break free of their atoms. So the bubble ends up with negatively charged electrons separated from positively charged molecules. In other words – plasma. And when the charged molecules vibrate, they release radiation, like light So it’s possible that the gas inside the bubble is briefly turning into plasma, releasing light, and then turning back into gas again. And the process of plasma turning back into gas could also caused energy to be released in the form of light. So there are plenty of possible explanations for how a collapsing bubble produces heat and even more for how it produces light. This flash of light only lasts for about 10 billionths of a second, and it’s hard to know what’s going on in that tiny fraction of a piece of time. But no matter how it happens, understanding a little bit more about sonoluminescence definitely makes me respect mantis shrimp more. Thanks for watching this episode of SciShow, which was brought to you by our Patrons on Patreon. If you want to help support this show, help us keep making this stuff, learning about weird shrimp, you can go to And don’t forget to go to and subscribe. …if you look at a zebra fish, you probably just see a cute tiny fish that’s smaller than your pinky finger, but this little fish is so much more than that. You’re looking at an amazing scientific tool…


  1. Please tell us why does bread gets hard in contact with hair!!!!
    I won't stop asking it belive me guys. ; )
    P.s. You all are amazingly great! A hug from italy.

  2. Question: Are there electrons that jump their shells as the pressure rises and and jumps back as the pressure falls? Won't that create a photon?

  3. What the hell, mantis shrimp? I wanna create near-interstellar conditions and cause chemical reactions just by throwing a jab too.

  4. The mantis shrimp is so fascinating. They can see 4 times as many base colors as we can and can create temperatures as hot as the surface of the sun. Such an OP animal.

  5. The mantis shrimp is probably the most OP aquatic life form I have ever heard of. It can deck you in the face so hard, that it creates a star. Just think about that. Something so tiny shouldn't be that fuckin' strong. It is strong enough to be a JoJo character's Stand. I wanna see this thing fight a sand striker so bad.

  6. If, maybe, could be, possibly …… FFS, it's 2017 ….. if scientists don't understand
    Sonoluminescence which is right here in front of us …… what faith that black holes, dark matter and other bs constructions are anything more than fiction?

  7. This explains how the most high created this universes with a word. And the  water was upon the face of the deep. And the spirit of the creator hovered over it. And he said "Let there be light."

  8. My new spirit animal. xD So bassicly the only way to capture its light what it creates is to film it with the slow mo camera. And not any other slow mo camera, but with the one that can capture photon on the way. Will probably take some time till someone will decide to do that and not to meantion,look through all the hours when that shrimp did the exact snap of claws.. xD

  9. why they dont use a liquid with a higher viscousity would it change ?
    what if they use a round bottom flask but with a diameter of 1m or so and a higher amount of gas in the bottle. if it work in smaller scales how it will work in higher scales ?

  10. The explanation that I got is that everything is one thing looked at from a different perspective. So light is not created, we simply look at that one thing differently and it looks like light.

  11. This is a real life pokemon. Generation 69. The mantisshrimp is a shrimp like mantis pokemon. Know. For their punch of the sun it will punch a bubble in the bottom of the ocean that is as hot as the suns surface.

  12. If water is a soup of hydrogen atoms (plus other atoms) and air is a soup of oxygen atoms (plus other atoms) whats the frequency necessary to create a bubble as a mantis shrimp do in air and sustain that shape and form using electromagnetic field manipulation?

  13. Cool video! I like the animations. Note: The light flashes last trillionths of a second, not billionths. Source

  14. Could we stabilize the reaction so as to have microstars, do micro Dyson spheres and become type 2 op civilization? ahaha

  15. when I was in 8th grade I asked my science teacher about the possibilities of building an engine based on sound. She never got back to me.


  17. Stars are born in Birkeland currents. Sonoluminescence happens in water. Aether is the ocean of the Universe. Water comes from consciousness and aether. Cymatics of the Universe creates stars. Are stars thoughts created from the consciousness of the Universe. Trying to prove the core of the stars are positive monopole, the negative monopole is in counterspace. Stars are created when the inertial plane, it's coaxial circuit and counterspace are breached into space. Stars mantle are liquid metallic hydrogen (Prof. P-M Robitaille).

  18. So the energy from the sound excites the electrons in the surrounding water and then they emit energy in the form of photons when they go back to a lower energy state?

  19. Does anyone think this is related: researchers finding a way to separate water and make the hydrogen gas combust with sound? (skip to 40 sec)

  20. And God said…
    Arg, matie
    The first pirate, ii mate.
    Look to dura and pia about this matter, the arachnid between is the veil that must be torn. Peter, is the rock, the solid rock on which to stand is the Pineal. Religion hides this, and calls it evil. My God created no evil, man does that on his own. Exit the church, enter the kingdom and temple within. Meditation is medication.

  21. So maybe the Genesis creation story has some truth to it? God speaks frequencies over the “face of the waters,” and the Holy Spirit (plasma) produces visible light.


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